What is America?
by Hardeep Chawla
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What is America? What is patriotism? What do the words such as “America,” “Freedom,” and “Liberty” evoke in our hearts? Lately, it seems as if everyone has his or her own opinion. Kaepernick believed in his right to free speech; others believed him to be anti-American for refusing to stand during the National Anthem. The 15th anniversary of 9/11 was Sunday, and that was hard for almost every American- how are we different as a nation 15 years later, and is it for the better or for the worse? Who have we become in light of what has happened to us? Donald Trump, Secretary Clinton, and their media entourage also seem to have ideas of what America is (or isn’t) and how patriotism should play out. It seems like we cannot turn on the TV or open Facebook without somebody commenting on whether someone is a “true” American.
This weekend, I had the privilege to visit our nation’s capital for a company conference, and one night, two of my law school friends and I decided to tour the National Mall at night. So there we were, three goofy students, riding around on bikes: first the Capitol Building, then the Supreme Court, Washington Monument, the WWII Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial with other beautiful monuments all sprinkled in between.
I sat at the base of Lincoln Memorial at midnight while they toured inside; I looked across the Reflection Pool at Washington Monument and the Capitol Building lit behind it.
I sat there for thirty minutes watching ducks sleep, couples giggle on the stairs behind me, and low-flying helicopters whirl past every few minutes. A quiet stillness settled over me; it’s hard to ignore the sheer majesty of the National Mall. I think that’s what the architects wanted their monuments to do, to evoke a sudden awareness of the American spirit that has gone on before us and will continue to endure after we are gone. My law school friends returning from Lincoln interrupted my thoughts, but the quiet stillness stayed with me as we traveled to Jefferson Memorial.
Their giddy joy on the walk to the memorial distracted me; it was a combination of 1am, lack of sleep, and the awe of being in Washington D.C. Yet, when we finally entered into Jefferson’s dome, they quieted down. While they walked the monument, I settled onto one of the stone benches within the rotunda and simply looked at Jefferson himself. What was he like? Would he be proud of where his country is today?
As a strong Anti-Federalist, Thomas Jefferson fought tooth-and-nail for the protection of State’s rights and the limitation of the Federal Government; I honestly think some of Bernie Sanders’ ideas would have had him so up in arms he might have had a stroke. Yet, this is the inscription on the Southeast wall:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
As I sat there and thought of those words, I thought of Kaepernick. I thought of Donald Trump and Secretary Clinton. I thought of those who lost loved ones on 9/11. I thought of the people I met at political conferences, and I thought of the man running the convenience store a mile away. Is America advancing for the better, like Jefferson himself said all nations must, or are we advancing far beyond where our Founding Fathers did? Where was the line? Was the line truly the idyllic 1950s with backyard barbecues, fathers throwing baseballs to sons, and tight knight communities living peacefully? Or maybe it was under the administration of the “true” American President, Ronald Reagan? Was it the early 2000s as technological innovations soared above and beyond the conceivable mind? Is it now as we sit on a tipping point as a country? How do you define patriotism? What would your “Reflection Pool” thoughts be? Who is America, and how do we keep her that way? Please feel free to comment below.